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dj lag: an afropunk dj mix

September 16, 2019
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There’s good reason that when DJ Lag dubs himself “King of Gqom,” there isn’t much of a counter-argument. Not only was the artist born Lwazi Asanda Gwala in the Clermont township of Durban, among the first producers to jump on the rhythm currently driving one of the world’s most explosive beat cultures, he’s been its biggest evangelist outside the continent. And when earlier this summer Lag produced “My Power” for Beyonce’s The Lion King soundtrack — putting the Queen Bee, Tierra Whack and Nija next to the incredible voices of Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswa — he helped provide gqom its most high-profile moment, and usher in a great America-South Africa-UK music summit.

On the heels of his great new EP Uhuru (rumored to be short-listed for a Grammy nom) and ahead of Lag’s appearance at AFROPUNK’s Carnival of Consciousness in Atlanta — where he’ll be doing a highly anticipated set with his “My Power” co-conspirator, the great London drummer Moses Boyd — the King of Gqom made us an exclusive DJ mix. He also shared some thoughts about the roots of gqom, his collaborations and where the music is headed next. Enjoy!

Can you identify some of the music on the mix? What does the music mean/represent for you?

“Anywhere We Go” is the first song, I released that one earlier his year in SA with Shekhinah, which was a great experience. We’re now bringing it to the States with Parametric Records behind us — they’ve really supported us even though gqom is a new genre to folks in the States. This track is also a fairly new idea to South Africans because you wouldn’t usually get someone like Shekinah on a gqom track, but we tried it and it worked out well. I also put in some TNS, “Anthem.” I always play that one to get people in the mood, it’s a long time favourite. And some Abashana Bonjandini. They’re great, I’ll have them at Something For Clermont Boiler Room on the 27th. They’re new to this industry, and I think they’ll do even better than they have been as they go. I think this mix means a new start for gqom and for me, because I’m seeing myself and this music in a different way too. London has always been a second home for gqom to me, but now the U.S. is warming up to it and it’s a different kind of appreciation. I’m excited to see how people feel about it when we get to ATL.

How did you first get into DJ’ing, and who are some of your DJ’ing influences? What were you listening to before gqom? 

I was making hip-hop beats before gqom, just for my cousin. I didn’t know how to DJ when I got my first gig for a high school graduation. So I had to teach myself pretty quickly because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to show people what I could do as a producer. I went to my uncle who had all the gear, so I just kept practicing until it stuck.

Talk a little bit about gqom, what it is, and about how you came to be involved in that movement?

Well it’s the sound a drum makes. Guys like Sbucardo and Naked Boyz and I were just making  some sounds. The first track that inspired me to make gqom was by Naked Boyz — it was called “Ithoyizi.” After that, they were heading in the tribal house direction at that time, so I was trying to do something similar to their “Ithoyizi,” which was more broken beats; and from there we ended up making gqom without knowing we’d created something new. At first some people thought it was just noise because no one had ever heard it, but a few of us liked it and started sharing our sounds, and it spread. There are different styles of gqom, and I look to uThayela on my latest Uhuru EP, which is the style we were making in 2012. I think it didn’t get it’s chance to shine since gqom has spread so far and evolved towards more synths and Amapiano and all that nowadays. With this mix I get to show people that style, and show people who I am. Taking something that’s always been there, and seeing it in a different light, now that people outside Durban are hearing it.

You have been doing a lot of different collaborations over the past year. What is it about making music with others that is interesting to you? What are your prerequisites for choosing people who you work with?

I think that I choose people who challenge me a little bit. Normally you wouldn’t get a Beyonce or a Kelela or a Shekhinah on a gqom track but trying new things is how I got here, so I won’t stop now. I don’t want to make music that everyone has already heard. I want it to be exciting, and to feel good.

Go see DJ Lag play a special set with London drummer, Moses Boyd, at AFROPUNK’s Carnival of Consciousness in Atlanta On Saturday, October 12th.